Social Commentary

Are You Too Busy For a Thumbs Up?

This was originally written for my regular Generation Next Column. It has a handful of comments there that you might like to read.

My 5-year-old son attends swimming lessons each and every Sunday. It’s a busy pool with multiple classes going on at once.

During lessons parents sit around the pool and watch their offspring splash around, offering words of encouragement, the occasional ‘thumbs up’ and many smiles of pride.

You can picture it can’t you? It was pretty much the same as when we learnt to swim… way back when.

However if you’ve actually taken a child to swimming lessons recently you’d know that the picture I’ve painted is actually a fake.

In my experience, parents aren’t offering words of encouragement, thumbs up or even smiles. They’re staring at a screen reading banal Facebook updates, answering ‘important’ emails that simply couldn’t wait until Monday or just surfing mindlessly.

I wonder why?

Have we really convinced ourselves that we are that busy that we can’t devote 30mins of our attention to our kids? Heck even 15mins would be good!

How many of these parents have to lie when their kids ask them, “Did you see me?”

How many of these kids finish a lap to look for a thumbs up, only to find their parents’ thumbs otherwise engaged?

I know this might seem like a trivial matter, but I wonder if it’s just the tip of a much larger iceberg?

I’d be interested to hear what you think… am I worrying about nothing?

Ipad Parents

Education Wellbeing

3 Common Myths About Positive Psychology

I originally wrote this for my regular Generation Next Column Banksy Yellow Lines Sunflower

In my work with schools, I’m finding more and more interest arising in the area of Positive Psychology and its offshoot Positive Education.

And as the interest around these grow, so do some of the more common misconceptions.

I’ve found some teachers to be a little cynical, and why wouldn’t we be? After all it seems we get told a new way, a better way of teaching on an almost weekly basis. Or we’re being told that what we are doing is – quite simply – not good enough. We’re not good enough. Just look at what they’re doing in Finland or China.

So believe me… I get it.


There are 3 misconceptions that I am seeing more and more regularly both in journal articles, the mainstream press or online:

1. Positive Psychology is all about positive thinking, ignoring negative emotions and putting a smiley face on it all. Turn that frown upside down! It’s a kind of uber-self-help movement.

In short, this is the most damaging of all beliefs around Positive Psychology. Nowhere in any of the literature does it suggest we should be ‘happy’ all the time – that in itself would be a mental condition. And on the contrary, rather than ignoring negative emotions, the literature suggests we need to recognise them for what they are – an essential part of being human. One of my favourite authors, Tal Ben-Shahar calls this, Giving yourself permission to be human.

What positive psychology is about is finding what enables us to be at our best more often. Why wouldn’t you want to explore that?

Maybe it’s because…

2. It’s just another thing we have to do in school.

Embedding positive psychology into how you work and live is not about box ticking, doing more stuff, or having a policy for it. Rather it is a way of living your life and working. In truth many of us would incorporate aspects of positive psychology into what we do without even realizing it. The key is to realize when we do and make that the norm rather than the exception.

Yes but isnt’…

3. Positive Education only for the richest independent schools.

Whilst schools like Geelong Grammar, St Peter’s in SA and Knox Grammar in NSW have led the charge with positive education in Australia, it should not be seen as only something for the elite. Whilst these schools may well have engaged some of the world’s most renowned thinkers in the field at significant cost, you don’t have to. Many of these schools are now sharing what they have learnt, and if I’m being honest the fundamentals of positive psychology and positive education do not require big budgets to be lived, understood and embedded in school.

If you’d like to explore Positive Psychology and/or Positive Education in a little more detail drop me a line…

Social Commentary

The Crazy Things That Some Schools Do!

Is it April Fool’s day? Of course it isn’t. So why am I reading ridiculous headlines like this? helicopter parent

Melbourne schools ban playground games because of lack of resilience

The report stated that schools were banning Tiggy because kids would just give up when they were tagged, and quoted the Victorian Principals Association president Gabrielle Leigh as saying some schools had imposed bans on other games, such as skipping and swapping collector cards, over problems sharing.


Banning games because kids lack social skills or resilience?

That’s akin to banning Mathematics because kids can’t add up.

Or perhaps your child can’t spell properly? Just ring up the school to complain, and they’ll put a stop to those pesky English lessons too.

Is this really what we’ve come to?

The article claimed that, “Smaller families and over-protective parents are being blamed for a lack of resilience,” although blamed by whom it doesn’t say.

Whilst there may be something to the “over-protective” parents line, I find it incredible that schools would resort banning such things. I once heard of a school that banned the giving out of birthday invitations unless every child in the class received one – an argument if ever I’ve heard one for smaller class sizes!

Schools have to take the lead here, and draw a line in the sand, rather than perpetuating the issue by banning opportunities for kids to develop resilience.

You don’t build resilience by talking about it – I don’t care what any overpriced course tells you – you build it by working though issues. A struggle here, a bit of drama there and coming through it the other side.

I don’t know who said it to me, but they once described some parents as “Helicopter Gunship” parents. That is, they hover around blowing up anything and everything that might cause their child to struggle.

We’ve come to expect “Helicopter” parents, but we’re in danger when the “helicopter” mindset takes over schools as well.

If you were the person that gave me that analogy, let us know in the comments section so I can appropriately quote you in future!

This was originally written for my regular Generation Next column.

Education Social Commentary Youth

Hey kids – Stop talking like that!

Teen Speak

I bet there’s certain things kids say that grate on you. I bet there are slang terms that, quite simply, you don’t understand.

Every now and then you’ll come across a helpful list of the latest “kids speak” like this one. Go on, read it. It’s brilliant.

I’ll bet if you think back, there were words you used that your parents didn’t really get, and when they tried to use them, well… it was just wrong.

A couple of weeks back I stumbled across a very interesting article, again from the UK.

A school has decided to ban the use of certain slang words.  It’s worth noting they’re not talking about swear words, but words like:

“Innit” and the ever present “Like” are in the firing line as is starting sentences with “Basically” or ending them with “Yeah.”

Reaction has been varied. Some (mostly older folk) have applauded the move, whilst others have pointed to the naturally occurring changes in language over time.

Others have claimed that it could be considered racist, as some of the slang words under fire are most common in the vernacular of those from West Indian background.

It’s certainly an interesting debate, because I have my pet peevs too!

The seemingly new phenomenon of shortening words really grates on me.

Totally = totes, Obviously = obvs and for some reason – particularly Channel 10 – have been promoting “Double Eps” for over a year now… Is “Episode” really too long a word?

Yeah I know I know… Basically, I’m just being a grumpy old man. After all this is how the kids speak now innit yeah?

This was originally written for my regular Generation Next column.

Social Justice

Changing the World is Good for You!

I originally wrote this for my regular Generation Next Column.

If you can use your strengths in the service of something greater than yourself, many psychologists will tell you that this is a key predictor of wellbeing. They refer to it as having a sense of purpose or meaning.

Recently I’ve been working with schools to push their thinking in this regard.

What if schools were a place where kids learnt how to make a difference?

This has always underpinned my teaching philosophy, and it always excites me when I hear of former students who have taken this attitude with them into their adult life.

Genevieve Radnan is a former student of mine, who – instead of taking a gap year to party in Europe – decided to spend her time in Africa.

Her experience there inspired her on to great things. In particular she has worked with the Karunga community in Kenya.

Despite only just turning 22, Genevieve has already:

* Project managed the building of a kindergarten,

* Provided facilities for an orphanage

* Built from scratch, staffed and resourced a women’s education and training centre.

She has recently established her own charity: Gennarosity Abroad

Her story will be aired on TVS’ Models Of Achievement in August.

But she would like to share more about her experience with young people who are about to leave school as there could be so much more to a GAP year than partying in Europe! She will be speaking at a public Sydney showing of Models of Achievement on Tuesday 6th August at Emanuel School in Randwick, NSW.

Several travel agencies will be coming on the night to promote available volunteering programs for anyone interested especially targeting those who are about to have a GAP year.

It only costs $10 for adults and $5 for kids. Doors open at 6.45pm And you can buy tickets online.

Genevieve would love it if local schools could encourage students to attend, or if you’re not in Sydney, share her story to inspire your students. You can contact her through her charity’s website.

Meaning… purpose… wellbeing.

Social Commentary Wellbeing Youth

Girls Get A’s, Then Get Surgery

This was originally published for my regular Generation Next column. 

I have a saying that my teaching colleagues will be able to appreciate.

Interesting kids have very interesting parents.

I spent the past two years resisting invitations from schools to give parent talks.

My reasoning was that whilst after 15+ years teaching, I can speak with some authority with regards to working with school students, I have only been a parent for the past five years, and I reckon parenting is the hardest job in the world!

However, this year I broke my duck and have enjoyed chatting with parents on a variety of subjects… but as yet I haven’t broached this one.

This weekend I read an article in which kids are rewarded for impressive academic performances with plastic surgery!

Apparently, according to a cosmetic nurse quoted in the article, ”Lips and cheek augmentation are very, very common with the girls prior to the formal and graduation.”

I honestly don’t know where to start with this. I mean what do you say to parents who think like this?

Here are three of my initial thoughts:

1. If your daughter has issues with her self esteem so serious that the only way to address them is with surgery, then what kind of parent makes her jump through academic hoops in order to get it?

2. If your daughter is only motivated to do well academically by the prospect of having needles inserted into her face, what messages have you been sending her about learning, identity and self worth?

3. Or perhaps I am so out of touch with what’s going on, that I really need to get with the program before my daughter graduates in which case I reckon I’ve got about 12 years to work this parenting thing out.

Parenting is hard. But some parents – and Society as a whole – make it harder than it needs to be.

Education Social Commentary Wellbeing

Is ADHD an “Aussie” thing?

On Sunday, I tweeted a link to this article by Marilyn Wedge about rates of ADHD in different countries.adhd

Distilling the essence of this article, I subsequently wrote this for my regular column in the Generation Next blog.

In the US, at least 9% of schoolchildren are on medication for ADHD.

In Australia it is estimated that 11% of children and adolescents fulfill the criteria for ADHD.

Yet in France the figure is just .5%. As in POINT five. Half a percent.

Why is this?

Well, first of all the way in which French psychiatrists view ADHD compared to their US and Australian counterparts is significantly different.

In the US, psychiatrists consider ADHD to be a biological disorder with biological causes. As such they treat it with medications such as Ritalin.

However, across the Atlantic, French psychiatrists see ADHD as a condition that has social and situational causes. They seek to ascertain what issues in their social setting are causing the child act the way they do.

Treatment then invariably involves counseling and psychotherapy – rather than prescribing drugs.

The French also use their own system for diagnosing conditions. They prefer not to use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as we do in Australia and the US.

You may well have read of the concern that the redesign of the DSM may well lead to more people being labeled with a condition, and as such provide a bigger target for the pharmaceutical companies.

I must make it clear. I am NOT a mental health professional, but as a parent of a boisterous 5 year old, and a teacher of 15 years, I have a vested interest in this debate.

There are many sides to this discussion, and I plan to explore them in more depth in coming blog posts. I encourage others to respond with their thoughts… especially professionals and parents of kids with ADHD.


Get rid of ANTs & Change your thinking!

gen-next-short-logoThis was originally written for the latest Generation Next Newsletter.

Of late, more and more schools are asking me to work with their students as well as their staff.

My most popular workshop at the moment is Learning to Bounce where we explore resilience.

Resilience is generally accepted to mean the ability to bounce back after adversity.

However, inspired by the words of Dr Sue Roffey a couple of years back, I’ve been fascinated by the notion that resilience is also the ability to bounce forward.

Specifically, Dr Roffey talks of Post Traumatic Growth as opposed to the more commonly thought of, Post Traumatic Stress.

When I’m working with staff and students, we explore how being resilient also gives us the confidence to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. To take opportunities we might otherwise pass up if we feared failure. This is another example of how resilient people bounce forward.

One of the things we can all do to enhance our resilience (like any ability, we can develop it) is to look out for ANTs, or Automatic Negative Thoughts.


Everyone experiences these thoughts from time-to-time, and how we deal with them can have a huge impact on our lives.

See which of these four ANTs you can recognize in yourself.

Catastrophising – It’s a disaster! It’s completely ruined.

Overgeneralising – Everyone else is going, No-one likes me.

Filtering – When someone asks you how your day was, you forget the three positive things that happened and focus on the one negative.

Mind-reading – They said they liked it, but they were just being polite.

There are many more, and sometimes it’s easier to spot ANTs in others before you see them in yourself.

If you do see an ANT… try to get rid of it!

Challenge your thinking.

Have you got all the facts? Can you look at it from the other person’s point of view? Is ruminating on the issue doing you any good at all? Can you accept or solve the situation?

It’s not easy. It takes practice. But just for the next week, try some ANT spotting.

Because sometimes just identifying them can change the way you look at a situation.

And if you can do that, you’ve taken the first step to strengthening your resilience and being able to bounce forward.

Education Wellbeing

“Getting rid of the Dross”

Towards the end of 2012 I had two conversations with teachers in two different schools that made me stop and think.

The first was with a principal who in response to my assertion that we overuse grades in school replied:

I’ve heard all this before. But if we stop grading, we end up with kids who are shit but who don’t know they’re shit.

A few days later during a Q&A with a teaching faculty, a number of teachers started referring to “the Dross”, and once they’d “gotten rid of the dross,”they could really start teaching.


Now I’m not in the business of over-generalising or stereotyping, and I’m well aware of the challenges presented by some kids, but these two instances encouraged me to write the following for a Generation Next Newsletter. It’s not intended to be a detailed, in-depth look at teacher – student relationships. Rather it’s intended to serve as a conversation starter… what do you think?


Teacher Student

Of course we all know that relationships are central to teaching, and of course we all know that good relationships are pre-cursor to good teaching.

But I wonder if we can clarify what a good Teacher/Student relationship looks like?

In my experience good relationships in the classroom don’t depend on likeability as such. By that I mean we shouldn’t be aiming to be friends with students.

Rather a good relationship is built on 3 key things.

1. Respect

Respect must be a two-way street. No you shouldn’t expect students to respect you just because you’re a teacher. No-one has EVER been able to convince as to why this should be the case. Respect is something that takes time to be built and nurtured. Calling kids by their first name (not a nickname or surname) is a good starting point.

2. Trust

Let’s be honest, schools don’t trust kids. That’s why schools ban Facebook. That’s why unions panic if student feedback is suggested as a good way of measuring teacher performance. But if we don’t trust the kids – and they know this – why would they trust us? How many kids think that a teacher’s “out to get them?”

3. Show that you care.

Studies have shown time and again, the number one thing kids need from a teacher is the sense that they care about how they’re doing; both socially and academically. They feel that the teacher wants what’s best for them, and the way this is conveyed with respect and trust.

I wonder what would happen if every schools’ motto was: “We respect, trust and care about our students.”

Education Engagement & Motivation Wellbeing

Are we testing the wrong things?

This is my latest article in the Generation Next Newsletter…

As the Fairfax media reports that more parents than ever were withdrawing their kids from the annual NAPLAN tests I wonder if these tests are even assessing the right things in school.

Now I realize the importance of literacy and numeracy – of course I do.

But, these tests only measure outcomes.

If we only assess the outcomes, we often misunderstand or completely ignore the causation.

What if we saw these “outcomes” as a by-product of genuine engagement and wellbeing in our schools?

What if – instead of striving to enhance scores, we sought to enhance the wellbeing of our kids (and teachers!).

What if – instead of trying to compete with our Asian neighbours in the numeracy league tables, we attempted to genuinely engage our students in a way that develops critical and creative thinkers with a real lifelong love of learning.

To be frank, engagement and wellbeing are pre-cursors to real achievement, but all too often we pursue achievement at the expense of our kids’ (and teachers’) sense of engagement and wellbeing.

I recently discovered this Gallup poll that aims to chart the levels of hope, engagement and wellbeing across students in Grades 5-12 across the United States.

In Australia, I know ACER have this survey on engagement as well as their wellbeing survey and I think it would be in your school’s best interests to know how your students are tracking in this regard.